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Seafaring in the eyes of the younger generation

CAPT. KENNETTE CLAVEL: Seafaring in the eyes of the younger generation
August 21, 2019

The tail end of the 20th century had seen the best of both worlds in shipping: the conventional vessels that connected the continents by sea since the 1900s, and the introduction of modern, steel ships that would later give birth to technologically sophisticated vessels with the arrival of the following era.

It was during this period, the mid-’90s, when Kennette Clavel started sailing the high seas after graduating from the prestigious maritime academy John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU) in Iloilo. Shipping by then was shifting from conventional to the early stages of modernization. The young man was pitched right in the middle of the moving maritime landscape.

“Much like the fact that my generation was in between the Generation X and the Millennials, my experience with seafaring was the same,” Clavel, now a captain with Japanese-owned K-Line Philippines Inc., said.

“It was a favorable condition for us, however, learning the basic principles of navigation at school, and training for new technology when we came aboard the ship — it exposed us to the different aspects of seafaring before one went obsolete and the other took full control of ships,” he added.

It was this experience that gave Capt. Clavel a first-hand impression of how technology shaped seafaring for the better and, for some parts, the worse.

“In 1996 and the succeeding earlier years of my shipboard career, the crew would normally come in the ship’s lounge just to sit, talk and sing together to wind down after a long day of work. The companionship made us happy and in high spirits. By the time our ship concludes operations at port, we could disembark for a shore leave for a couple of days, sometimes weeks, and explore that foreign city we are currently in.

“Today, lounges and recreation areas of the ship are mostly empty and quiet. The banters and singing have stopped. No one visits it anymore, sometimes, not even during their entire tenure at the ship. Where are they? Down on their cabins tapping away on their laptops, tab[let]s or cell phones — watching films, playing games or scrolling through social media. It’s good, though, that it’s easier for us now to talk to our families,” he recalled in a soft, low voice that suggests a man of reserved nature.”

He explained how technology has made ship operations better and faster, but this usually made the seafarers lose their shore leaves.

“When a vessel arrives at port, the technologically sophisticated equipment renders the operations fast and we have to leave immediately because another ship is waiting to dock. Staying longer will be at a cost and it would cause vessel traffic; because of that, seafarers are now deprived of going ashore.

“The communication technology already separates us from one another while aboard the ship, and the modern equipment keeps us from going out the vessel. Technology may show our presence virtually, but realistically, it only further isolates seafarers who are already isolated from the world.”

Evolving with the times

Unlike the veteran seafarers who deem that the old salts are better sailors due to their hardworking, ingenuous and instinctive nature, Capt. Clavel believes that the current state of shipping calls for the more flexible and adaptable qualities of the younger generation.

“Identifying the best person for the job is relative to the circumstance. The old ships called for brawns and impressive navigational instincts but this era of vessels has greatly progressed that the seafarers have to evolve with it.

“This new generation of seafarers respond and adapt well according to the ever-changing and increasing demands of technology. It is so rapid that it becomes exhausting but we are always able to immediately adjust to it.”

Addressing industry problems from the roots

Shipowners and principals have, for years, tended towards hiring foreign nationals in place of Filipinos seafarers. Capt. Clavel sees health issues as the root cause of this gradual shift in manning.

“The principals are already finding Filipino seafarers a liability because of their health issues, most of which are caused by lifestyle illnesses,” Capt. Clavel, currently the general manager and vice president of Ventis Maritime Corp., disclosed. “This is the reason why they are moving someplace else because hiring Filipinos becomes an additional cost for them — the insurance claims and repatriation.

“The repatriation statistics is the same in most manning companies here in the Philippines; the number of repatriation due to injuries is only at 5 percent while health-related issues are placed at 95 percent. I am glad that the Department of Labor and Employment is already making a study on the lifestyle of seafarers because this needs to be addressed. It is useless to keep on training them to work safely onboard if they are unmindful of their personal health.

“Heart attacks and hypertension are getting common nowadays due to the preference for fatty and preserved foods. The food being served onboard is actually a common problem in the past because our cooks were usually nautical graduates and have no background in nutrition and diet. It is better now because employers HRM (hire human resource management) graduates for this specific task,” he explained, adding that the seemingly simple concern was overlooked in favor of improving the administrative systems of the Maritime Industry Authority and the private maritime institutions.

“Non-compliance with international standards may eventually cost our seafarers their jobs, but if we look deeper, many Filipino seafarers have actually already lost theirs due to health issues. Many were already sent back home due to lifestyle illnesses and the principals are moving to other countries to hire foreign seafarers. If there’s a most pressing issue that needs to be addressed, the industry only has to look at the bottom line and see that we have to campaign for healthy lifestyle for our seafarers,” he said.

“It appears on the medical examination before they board, but you really cannot tell actually. Those were just basic screening. This is one issue that is normally overlooked because of the trainings and audits. I believe we always have to go to the bottom of the issue. It’s costing them their jobs,” he added.